After my previous blogpost Annoying things (some) Norwegians do, I was expecting many reactions of people saying that what I wrote is unbelievably wrong and how dare you say bad things about a country hosting you etc.. Forseeing such reactions, I had prepared a counter blogpost to reassure the crowd on my intentions: despite sometimes poking where it hurt, I am conscious of all the good things Norwegians do, think and believe in. And that is one of the main reasons why I live here.
Surprisingly enough I did not get any defensive messages from Norwegians. That shows either how self conscious they are or just that they don’t bother commenting when they disagree. In any case, a few thoughts on positive things Norwegians do, some of them at least.
1. Acceptance. Although you almost beheaded their child while desperately trying to learn how to cross-country ski, Norwegians will always be kind to a foreigner trying hard to integrate. The mum of the kid will just advise you to take proper classes instead of going alone to Holmenkollen for your first day out with your new skis (and laugh at you for crashing in a tree). It applies if you try to learn their language too: they are quite tolerant with grammar mistakes and bad pronunciation. They will always, whatever your level, say “du er sååå flink” to encourage you. (Here some tips to learn Norwegian – or die trying– and pretend to be fluent in Norwegian)
2. Solidarity. Small talk is not really their thing, however if you are in deep shit, such as your boat falling apart on a wavy sea with a broken mast; lost in the forest in the middle of the winter; left without a bed at the door of a hytte with light inside. Well then, the survival “let’s stick together” will come out of every Norwegian. They will throw you all the rope they have and call all their neighbours to save you even if they have to try all night, give you their headlamp or lead the way for you to get in a safe place, make a space on the floor for you to sleep although the hytte is at its max, and offer you a cup of warm chocolate (or a glass of aquavit depending on who is offering) when you’ve made it through. Chitchatting the night away, as if you were best buddies: There is no better ice-breaker than a disaster.
However if you start chatting with your neighbour on the bus he’ll think you’re nuts and might turn their back on you. You’ll just have to get over that.
3. Nature. Ask a Norwegian where he/she feels most happy. They will never (in my experience) say “in front of my huge tv” or “with my new IPad”: happiness is always somehow linked to nature. Snow, a hytte, fresh fish from the fjord, not too many people around and a good meal with loved ones is all it takes. Despite their strong economy, their millions in the bank and their newest expensive gadgets, Norwegians seem to be part of the last ones to value nature so much. Some disturbing exceptions: mining Waste dumping in the fjords and plans of drilling oil in the beautiful Lofoten and Vesterålen islands.
4. Humor. Yes, Norwegians have a sense of humor which is quite their own. It takes some months, years, yes sometimes decades to understand and to make jokes yourself they will laugh at, but it’s worth it. Who has never dreamt of making an ordspill in another language than your own and have locals cracked up laughing?
5. Honesty and trust in humanity. When Breivik approached these kids in Utøya, no one would have ever imagined that he was a killer. Norwegians trust everyone, and expect only good things from people they don’t know. Now this is a gift, because it creates an atmosphere of trust in society. However it hit hard when we all realised bad things are possible here too: Breivik did encroach that spirit a little, but still Norway refused to become a hyper security state like those paranoid Americans.
6. Morals. Maybe because of their protestant heritage, Norwegians and even more Norwegian politicians are expected to follow quite high morals. The smallest case of corruption or conflict of interest and you’re out. Compared to France where Sarkozy is suspected in 7 cases of corruption and other nasty things and still coming on TV saying he is the man who is going to save our country, Norwegians have come a long way in having “clean” politics. Cleaner at least.
7. Which other country managed to pull it off when having so much income from oil and using it to actually make society better? Exactly, none. Most countries discovering large amounts of natural resources see corruption increase drastically, with a small elite (usually the family members of the president) getting all the benefits. Population usually crashes into poverty (or stays there). It is usually referred as the Dutch disease (only a few countries have avoided this pattern). In Norway the oil money benefited and still benefits society as a whole and is even invested for the future instead of all of it being spent right now. Now that doesn’t mean basing such a big part of your economy on the extraction fossil fuels is such a good thing, but that’s another story.
8. Equality. Men won’t hold the door for you when you come behind them (neither will women), but they will do the dishes, change nappies, and do, most of the time, half of the housework. You know what they say, you can’t have everything in life.
9. Resilience. Whatever happens, Norwegians have been taught to take whatever comes their way without a complain. Not like anyone would allow your winging (ever). So they might be rich now but my guess is that if they lost all the money tomorrow they would go on with their lives and make the most out of it.
10. The best for the end: swimming naked in lakes. Despite a little puritanism in some areas of Norway (so I’ve heard anyway), it is apparently totally accepted to swim naked in lakes especially when you think no one is around. If someone does come by they will ignore your presence and continue on their path (as Norwegians do consistently when meeting strangers, no surprise here).
See, Norwegians are not just annoying, they are a bunch of good things too!